Closed Platforms & Proprietary Formats Kill Market Opportunity

Jun 30th

This is a free flowing post based on interesting links of interest I recently came across. It compares online markets to offline markets. Those who preach free market virtues rarely follow through on them:

The misfortune, of course, is ours since the Fed also sold gold. We have to guess at that of course because transparency in capital markets, preached from on high, is merely pretence. ...

The answer to market direction lies with the Fed, which today reports on their decision and statement as to policy. The policy statement is, for the most part, useless as a guide to the market, and something I call a sham. Regretably, the Fed is not required to release their strategy and tactical plan, which is released to the banks via buy and sell orders from the FOMC trading desk.

The public is not privy to this Fed-HB&B insider trading, and so we have to wait for (i) the market action, and (ii) the spin from the bankers, to try to figure out for ourselves what’s happening. This juvenile process makes for difficult decision-making by the independent owners and managers of capital, and leads to accusations that the system is rigged.

Countries (and their laws) act as walled gardens around markets, representing and protecting those currently in a position of power. One day everything is fine then the next fish is bad. You should eat more cow. Mooooooooo.

I am guessing the prices of drugs in the legal drug market are nearly as divergent as they are in illegal markets, where cocaine has a 350X differential.

Search marketing in even some of the largest markets is behind the curve. Arbitrage opportunities that died in leading markets still might be wide open in lagging markets. Why else would Google kill Answers in November of last year and then open up a Russian version 7 months later.

On the web some platforms act as walled gardens while others pay developers for marketshare. New devices, new software, and new distribution channels open daily. Develop around the idea of an open and liquid market and go with the natural trends of the web.

Steer clear of the proprietary crap that loses money on every user if you want to build something lasting of value. Rely too heavily on any single partner, format, or platform and die.

Tips for Using Google's Traffic Estimator for Keyword Research

Jun 30th

Google's traffic estimator tool by default is set to broad match. If you want to see an estimate of the value of a specific phrase remember to wrap it in [brackets] instead of just submitting the broad matched version of the keyword term. I just reprogrammed my keyword research tool's traffic estimator link to include the broad, phrase, and exact match of each term. Since my tool is driven from Yahoo's it strips the s in some plural phrases, so the link to the traffic estimator tool gives all 3 match types, and links to all 3 match types with an s appended to the end of of the keyword phrase.

Synergy Between Domain Names & Keyword Based Search Engine Optimization Strategies

Jun 29th

SEO Question: Do domain names play a role in SEO? Do search engines understand that the words are in the URL even if they are ran together without hyphens in between them? What techniques are best for registering a domain name that search engines like Google will like?

Answer: Over time the role of the domain name as an SEO tool has changed, but currently I think they carry a lot of weight for the associated exact match search. Depending on how they are leveraged going forward they may or may not continue to be a strong signal of quality to search engines.

Domain Names & Link Anchor Text

When I first got in the SEO game a good domain name was valuable because if you got the exact keywords you wanted to rank for in your name it made it easier to get anchor text related to what you wanted to rank for. For example, being seobook.com made it easier for me to rank for seo book and seo.

That link still exists, but nowhere near as strongly or broadly as it once did.

The Fall of Anchor Text & the Rise of Filters

Anchor text as an SEO technique is no secret. To make up for the long ongoing abuse of it, Google started placing less weight on anchor text AND creating more aggressive filters that would filter out sites that have a link profile that looked too spammy with too many inbound links containing the exact same anchor text. If everyone who links to me uses seo book as the anchor text it is much harder to consistently rank for that term than it would be if there was a more natural mixture to it. A natural mix would have some of the following

  • Aaron Wall

  • Aaron Wall's blog
  • SEO Book blog
  • book about SEO
  • the SEO Book
  • seobook.com
  • www.seobook.com
  • Aaron Wall's Seo Book
  • etc

Natural link profiles also contain deep links to internal pages, whereas spammy sites tend to point almost all of their links at their home page.

Domain Names in Action

As Google started getting more aggressive at filtering anchor text, they started placing more weight on the domain name if the domain name exactly matched the keyword search query. They had to do this because they were filtering out too many brands for the search query attached to their brand. Some examples of how this works:

  • At one point, about 2 years back, SeoBook.com stopped ranking for seo book due to a wonky filter that also prevented Paypal for ranking for their own name for a little bit.

  • A friend recently 301 redirected an education site on a bad URL to a stronger domain name. The site's ranking for the exact phrase went from 100+ to top 20 in Google. But, it still is a long way from #1, and it still is at 100+ for the singular version. In competitive industries you need a lot of links to compete, and the redirect also caused the site to slip a bit for some of the other target keyword phrases that the site used to rank for.
  • When you launch a new site on a domain name like mykeywordphrase.com and get it a few trusted links it should almost immediately rank for mykeywordphrase. A friend launched a 3-word education site about a week ago. That site ranks #1 in Google right now for those keywords ran together. That site also just ranked #118 in Google for the phrase with the words spread apart. As the site ages and gets more links it should be easier to rank for that exact phrase (but that domain probably wouldn't help its rankings much for stuff like the root sub-phrase).
  • My domain name Search Engine History.com ranked better than it should have for the query search engine history when its only real signs of trust were age and domain name. It was nowhere in the rankings for just about any other query.

Things Will Change Over Time

A few other caveats worth noting

  • From my experience this exact match domain bonus works with all domain extensions (even .info), but that could change over time. And if the content isn't any good it is still going to be hard to get traction in any market worth developing content for. This exact match domain bonus also works well in local markets for regional domains like .ca.

  • This post is about the current market, and is highly focused on Google's relevancy algorithms (rather than other search engines). I expect the weight on domain names to be lowered significantly (especially for competitive queries) as Google moves toward incorporation more usage data into their relevancy algorithms. This is especially true if many domainers put up low quality to average quality websites on premium domain names. Moves like creating 100,000 keyword laden sites in one massive push (as Marchex recently did) don't bode well for the future of domain names as a signal of quality.
  • The search traffic trends are moving toward consolidating traffic onto the largest high authority sites, so it probably is not a good idea to have 100 deep niche domain names like OnlineHealthcareDegrees.org, OnlineNurseDegrees.net, OnlineNursingSchools.com, OnlineLawDegrees.com, OnlineParalegalDegrees.net etc when you can cover a lot of those topics with a singular broad domain like Online Degrees.org.
  • Any advantage exact match domains seem to have for ranking is much smaller for related phrases that do not exactly match the keyword string or phrases within the anchor text of most of the inbound links.
  • For local businesses a keyword matching domain might be a way around paying to list in all the regional directories and other related arbitrage plays.
  • Domains that use familiar language and sound credible also have a resonance that helps build trust, make the information seem more credible, easier to link at, easier to syndicate, and easier to do business with. It is hard to estimate the value of that since much of it is indirect, and few have measured the affect of domain name on linkability or clickability of a listing outside of paid search arbitrage.

Google Custom Search Engine

Jun 29th

Creating a Google custom search engine looks like much more work than it actually is. Recently Google allowed webmasters to make them on the fly by seeding them with the links from any page(s).

Add together your few favorite sites, the sites listed in the relevant DMOZ categories, and the sites listed in the relevant Yahoo! Directory categories. Spend 10 minutes purging the spammy our outdated links and you have relevancy that might match Google's in many markets.

Link Quality: Perception is Reality

Jun 28th

A friend of mine recently submitted a sleazy site to a number of human edited directories and was surprised at how many accepted it...almost all of them.

A bigger surprise though was who rejected it. Yahoo took the $300 and accepted the submission. A directory that has been highlighted as a spot that sells links to anyone who has $10 and a URL rejected it.

Perception of quality and brand awareness (as signals for trust) often trump true quality, usefulness, and how strongly a link source discriminates.

How Interactive Media is Changing Marketing

Jun 28th

Language has historically been butchered by politicians pushing their own agenda, but as networks get better at spreading information quickly, we are immersed in more information than we know what to do with, and more people are voting for ideas / spreading messages without even thinking through what they are voting for. I can't count how many times I have felt duped by supporting things that I later found out to be pure crap.
In a blog post Google tells us why they are buying DoubleClick:

In short, Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick will benefit all parties in the online advertising business, including advertisers, publishers, agencies and, most importantly, consumers.

Wow! The world is going to be better for EVERYONE!!! Gee those guys really are out to make the world a better place.

Corporate drivel has been around far longer than I have, but the fundamental changes that are occurring right now are due to people voting for causes without even thinking what their votes mean. Of course that has always happened, but now we have quick direct measurable feedback of how people reacted, searchable databases of past successful marketing campaigns, and a network quickly willing to go wherever potential revenue exists.

Networks are trying to capture and spread passion in ways that have never been possible before. Consider Google Earth Outreach, which allows non-profits to spread their messages on Google Earth. Every non-profit using this builds the Google brand, which helps Google make more money selling ads for Ponzi schemes, among other things.

Was that unfair? Perhaps, but the point is that even if we are a good judge of character it is hard to understand the full affect of our actions on a network so complex. Worse yet, marketers realize that people vote for many ideas without even thinking them through or reading them. Good headline...wow. So then people package information to cater to the hollow voting systems.

Marketers (like me) are creating more and more elegantly wrapped and packaged informational research studies that starts with the end goal, and collects whatever facts are necessary to justify them. Consider The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth, a study which came up with results like Nearly 58 percent said government should be doing more, not less. What should the government be doing more of? What question did they ask to get that result? Worse yet, even by calling that study crap (and linking to it) I just voted for it and gave it further credibility.

The endless drive toward efficiency by ad networks is hollowing out the viability of profitable content creation, while increasing the profit margins for those spreading remarkably biased misinformation.

It really doesn't matter what compartment we put ourselves in. Someone is willing to act as a leader, tell us what we want to hear, and display targeted ads. Should information agents look beyond popularity when considering the value of information? Will the web end up further fracturing society by making it too easy to find like-minded people who have little care for truth?

Do Article Submissions Work for SEO?

Jun 28th

Michael Gray recently asked what people thought of using article syndication as an SEO technique. While it may have some upside if the articles get picked up and syndicated outside the article databases, the article databases themselves carry little weight. Patrick Altoft noted that after tracking the results for about 500 clients he discontinued his automated submission service because he thought it didn't offer any value anymore.

A better way to syndicate content to sites outside article databases is typically to create something they would want to link at, or to start building social relationships. As Jeremy Luebke posted in Graywolf's comments, those links work. Google is getting better at determing what parts of the web are active and worth trusting.

Was MySpace an Overnight Success?

Jun 28th

Brad Greenspan, the CEO of eUniverse, posted about the history of his company leading up to MySpace. His company survived the dot com meltdown (while profiting the whole time). By the time they created MySpace in 2003 they had a top 20 (US web traffic) network of community driven sites. When they launched MySpace they were able to leverage their other content sites and traffic streams to help MySpace spread quickly. MySpace may have appeared as an overnight success, but it didn't hurt that eUniverse had years of experience launching numerous high growth community sites.

Almost all high growth web businesses start out with an idea that works but a model that does not, but that is why the evolve, and why experience is worth so much. Paul Kedrosky recently shared this Niklas Zennstrom video:

Search, Advertising, Gatekeepers, & The Pending Online Security Wars

Jun 27th

As email filtering gets better many of the true scammers of the web are shifting to distributing adware on websites. As terrorism is used to help politicians push their agendas, fear marketing and the concept of security are only going to grow in importance online as well.

Google vs Microsoft

Google already highlights some websites that might distribute malware in their search results and promoted research showing that Microsoft computers were twice as likely as Apache servers to distribute malware. In addition Google bought GreenBorder, perhaps to help them make an anti-virus / anti-spyware software program.

GreenBorder's Ulfar Erlingsson moved over to Microsoft Research. Microsoft is also pushing a suite of integrated anti-virus and anti-spyware service.

All Search Engines Link to Scammers

In May McAfee did a study on the safety of search results, noting that the paid search ads are far more likely to scam consumers than the organic listings by over a 2 to 1 ratio:

The improvement in search engine safety is primarily due to safer sponsored results. The percentage of risky sites dropped from 8.5% in May 2006 to 6.9% in May 2007. However, sponsored results still contain 2.4 times as many risky sites as organic results.

What is spam? What is a scam? Whoever is the trusted source for those limits gets to shift markets overnight. Google shows warnings near organic results leading to bad sites, but you never see that warning on an ad. The fact that the ads are over twice as likely to lead you to a scam as the regular search results shows the value of being trusted as the security police.

What People Forget About Efficient Ad Networks

Up to some point efficiency comes easy, but after you get to a certain point increased efficiency comes in the form of hidden risks, hidden costs, and outright fraud. It is a reflection of the nature of capitalism. Many of the tools that aim to protect you are hypocritical beyond belief. For example, SpamArrest, an email spam protection service, ironically spammed people via email.

How Valuable is Security?

As data collection gets more aggressive, and ad networks sell ads to scammers, being the company that is trusted for security is a big deal from a financial standpoint. Calling something unsafe gives ad networks another chance to monetize the user experience.

  • In the past Microsoft incorrectly labeled one of my sites as a phishing site.

  • My girlfriend just got a new laptop, and at the top of her IE browser was a huge Norton banner stating fraud monitoring is on.
  • Verizon recently launched a service that redirects typos so they can cash in, just like VeriSign tried to do.

How to Protect Yourself From the Security Wars

  • Use a short memorable domain name on a common TLD, so few capture typo traffic intended for your site

  • use home grown software if possible
  • keep your software updated
  • place community and interactive parts of your site on isolated domains or subdomains if they are known to get cracked (like PHPBB)
  • only link to trustworthy sites (if you have a community section keep it clean as well)
  • build signs of trust (links, subscribers, usage data)
  • minimize the amount of cursing done on your site or it might get flagged as being pornography, like mine recently did...as noted by an SEO Book reader who sent me this image from the Kansas City airport

Leveraging Your Search Knowledge to Market to Different Communities

Jun 27th

The type of person who reads this blog and other blogs about search marketing knows far more than the average webmaster (or web user) about search. You can use that knowledge as a marketing advantage over the competition, by doing things like creating a custom topical search engine, or write about harnassing the power of Google to _____. Search is a big power on the web, and it relates to everyone publishing a site. Leverage Google's brand to push your own. If you story spreads great, if not then you site is at least a bit thicker and harder for people to compete with.

In almost every field you can make your content seem more linkable and more remarkable by talking about it as though it is a search play rather than a pure content website. Look how much press Mahalo got compared to the quality of the site and the quality of the concept.

Why an RSS Subscriber is Worth 1,000 Links

Jun 27th

The type of people who subscribe to sites are also the type of people who write about that topic. If you have built up trust and a following your ideas spread faster than the competition. It builds on itself to the point where you can sell out in 8 minutes or 2 minutes. Selling out gives the perception of scarcity and creates more demand. Viral free marketing creating more free marketing...that is as good as it gets.

In many cases the quality of the idea does not matter as much as who said it. If a no name person launched Truemors would it have become popular enough to where I would have just linked to it as an example? If a no name site with no following, little traction, and no marketing budget does something great how will it spread?

The Evolution of a Profitable Site

Jun 27th

The following is the three step process that I view as the best path for creating sustainable sites that are valuable, successful, and profitable.

Launching a New Website

When starting a new site a webmaster should be willing to do just about anything to build link equity, brand exposure, and an audience. This includes:

  • not monetizing too heavily off the start

  • buying a good domain name and site design (or as best you can afford)
  • paying attention to the marketplace
  • stroking the ego of important players in the market (via things like award programs, interviews, mentions, etc etc etc)
  • having a unique value proposition and something you stand for
  • create real value
  • buying a few key trusted links

This phase should include trying many different things...even if 90% of your ideas go nowhere you still do good if just a few of them spread. Test and learn, test and learn, etc etc etc. It is ok if some of your ideas in this stage are flat out bad...it shows that you are learning and it will make others more comfortable feeling they can also learn with you. People don't like to read someone who thinks they are perfect, especially if they are new to a market.

In this phase I usually do not care too much about monetization other than coming up with ideas that I know I can bolt on, unless the site is so niche that it is already immediately focused on the commercial aspect.

If you bought an old trusted site you can skip step 1 and head to step 2.

Monetize Your Site

As the site gets traction, the site can be back-filled with related higher profit content ideas. Don't place ads on your subscription channel in a distracting way. Instead, add other content sections to the site that are of high profit potential. Make a channel / feed of related deals, or create a static content portion of the site with related commercial offers. After you created enough content you can also repackage portions of it in an information product or sell a premium subscription service.

The site's internal link structure should also place more weight on the important high profit pages. As the site ages and gains high authority trusted links, the site's inbound link profile can back-fill that with obtaining some average to lower quality links with the desired anchor text for the most profitable sections of the site.

Here you can also look to launch (or at least think of) ideas that make you the authority on the profitable section of your site. What can you do in that niche to make people view you as the expert? Why would they cite you instead of competitors?

Solidify

If your site makes more than your living costs, but you feel is on shaky ground, it is time to reinvest earnings to create a real brand. If you don't have a great design and great domain name make sure to buy them. Make the site so strong that the competition can't clone you and has no choice but to buy you out. Create thick content that builds your brand even if it does not feel like it will be highly profitable in the short term. After you have enough easy to monetize content keep increasing the quality of your content and create something people would want to subscribe to and share with their friends.

As you keep building your brand and link equity you can also look to increase your income by doing any of the following

  • selling consulting or information products

  • adding parallel profitable content sections monetized via ads
  • going deeper with the commercial sections on your site (by adding more content in that section)
  • if you have enough distribution and market leverage, consider creating a marketplace or leverage your brand asset to move your site up the value chain

Website Sustainability: What Percent of Your Traffic Comes From Search Engines?

Jun 27th

As an SEO one of our primary goals is to get more search traffic for targeted search terms. Search traffic is typically far more valuable than other traffic sources because it is so targeted. But non-search traffic is perhaps the single most reliable sign of quality. As Google controls a larger portion of the overall traffic flow across the web, they risk creating self fulfilling prophecies where low quality sites continue to rank only because they already rank.

If you were Google, and discovered that 98% of a site's traffic comes from Google.com might you want to give that site a bit less exposure? I would. Maybe those algorithms do not exist now, but eventually they could.

If you have a site that earns far beyond your living costs, and it is almost entirely reliant on search for income, then one of the best moves you can make for the sustainability of that site is to lower the percentage of traffic that comes from search by creating other traffic sources. The other traffic sources may not be as profitable on a CPM basis, but as you diversify you lower your risks. It doesn't matter how the algorithms shift if your site is strong in every signal of trust they could possibly measure.

Tracking the Growth of Competing Sites

Jun 26th

Question: How do I track the progress of competing sites over time? How do I know what keywords my competitors are ranking for, and which ones they are improving on?

Answer: There are a way variety of means to track competing sites.

Online Ranking Checkers

Online tools such as Digital Point's keyword ranking tool, the ShoeMoney SERP tool, the our rank checker, or the new tool at ZoomRank show where keywords rank. The Digital Point tool also shows you where a keyword ranks over time, but the problems are who wants to check a lot of these keywords one at a time, and where do you get the opening list of keywords?

Competitive Research Tools

There are numerous organic search competitive research tools on the market. SpyFu is a paid tool which offers limited free data, and SEODigger and URLTrends are free tools which shows you keywords that a site ranks for. AdGooroo also takes a look at similar data, with more focus on paid search. If you can afford to spend $10,000+ you may also want to consider trying HitWise.

Keyword Research Tools

After the competitive keyword research tools you may also want to look at the keyword tools promoted by the search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) and companies like Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery. The Google Traffic Estimator will tell you what terms Google thinks are most valuable, and you can also check keywords in bulk and track them over time by buying software like Agent Web Ranking.

Don't forget to also consider macroeconomic factors and seasonal traffic trends.

Look at the Competitor's Website

Looking for a few more keywords that the competitor may have found but the market missed? Beyond those competitive research tools the easiest spots to look for keywords on competing sites are

  • the internal navigation of competing sites (especially look for pages that are bizarrely over-represented in their navigation)

  • a competitor's homepage page title and headings (you can see the page titles with Xenu and the last two data points with OptiSpider)
  • abnormal patterns in their inbound anchor text (use a tool like Backlink Analyzer)
  • if they participate in AdSense and allow site targeting, buy AdSense ads targeting their site to dig into their traffic stats

Look at Their Reach

As far as general traffic trends for a site go, Compete.com, Quantcast, and Alexa all give snapshots of site traffic trends. That data tends to be rough though...especially for small sites. The two big ways to track site growth from a market penatration and search representation standpoint are to look for changes in the rate of citation by using the following data points and tools

and look for the rate of the growth of the site's content, reach, and trust using the following metrics

  • number of RSS subscribers (use Bloglines subscribers as a sample estimate if they don't have any other numbers public) and/or number of comments on blog posts for sites with feeds

  • how often you see well read channels mentioning the competitor
  • how often you see (search, contextual, or affiliate) ads for the competitor
  • number of pages on the site indexed in Google
  • the ratio of the pages that are in the regular index vs Google's supplemental index (having most of your pages in the primary index is a good thing)

Buying Sites for Search Engine Ranking Domination

Jun 25th

Frank mentioned this NYP article about how some companies are buying sites outright rather than increasing their AdWords bid prices. I expect this to be a large and growing trend for at least a couple years. As Google gets more efficient at pricing the ads they increase the value of the top ranked sites that sit alongside those ads. Internet Search Metrics, quoted in the NYP article as Internet Search Management, is providing audits on the competitive landscape of search

ISM's audits track the top 4.5 million search phrases on Google and Yahoo!, a total of 7.3 billion searches a month, to determine which companies across 50 business sectors pop up most frequently in the top three or four positions in natural search. ...

The ISM audits, to be released in London, break down which of 50 business sectors are locked up - that is, have large chunks of natural search dominated by a handful of companies - and which are wide open.

I have not yet seen any of the reports, but the network is still young. If you love marketing, are in tune with web trends, and are well funded I am guessing that many of the markets that appear locked up are still wide open.

The Haunting Archives of Ethically Driven Publishers

Jun 24th
posted in

As long as Google allows webmasters to report spam and report paid links, few will question how much webspam Google sponsors. As long as they are the lead corporate sponsor of Stop Badware few will think of their Toolbar as spam.

Some of the A list bloggers who trashed paid reviews, are talking up the virtues of conversational marketing, forgetting what they just wrote. The hard part of being a well known blogger is that as one gains exposure, influence, experience, friends, enemies, and a large archives it is easy to appear hypocritical. This is especially true on a rapidly changing network, where successful people change with the network, and advertising techniques that were once unethical are mainstream a year or two later.

Undeveloped .com Domain Name Prices vs SEO Service Prices vs Business Prices

Jun 23rd

It is easy to appreciate how under-priced some SEO services are when you look at what people are willing to pay for other traffic sources. $11 million in domains changed hands at the recent TRAFFIC conference, and $52 million more would have if the owners will willing to let them go! Once domains get properly developed their value quickly increases. Business.com was claimed to be overpriced in 1999 for 7.5 million, but now is up at auction for $300 million plus. Business.com is not much more than a thin arbitrage play, with a great name, great branding, and great marketing, all funded by the power of search.

To appreciate how much marketing and sales they do, consider that they only employ 6 editors to run the entire directory, while having around 100 employees. Without SEO/SEM that domain would not have the leverage needed to get syndication distribution partnerships, have strong revenues, custom ad deals with Google, or command such a high multiple.

I have spent $10,000+ buying a non-type-in domain name that someone paid $8 for. I have done it more than once in the last month. Why? Synergistic value in branding, associated perceived trust, and market differentiation...which are all important in a crowded marketplace.

Are domains overpriced? If you pay retail and don't have a plan for them, maybe. If you have a good plan and develop them (or buy below retail in a growing market) you should do well. As ad dollars continue to move online almost all markets are growing markets.

Sure a lot of people think you are at the mercy of Google as an SEO, but in certain markets people EXPECT to find certain sites. Google has to rely on showing some partners in their organic results to sell paid search ads against. If you look at Google's personalized homepage tabs they also offer a I'm Feeling Lucky button that adds the most popular items to that tab. If you create a tab for your keywords does Google push your feed? If you get the right name and market the hell out of it, I think your rankings, traffic, and business model are at least as defensible as type in traffic or just about any other business model.

As SEOs we tend to undervalue some of our assets because the work we do for clients is so valuable relative to the rates we charge. After a few hours of work you can offer most clients strategies that increase their non brand traffic by at least 10 to 20%. But when you hear that Business.com might get $350 million for something making $15 million a year, it makes it easy to want to heavily reinvest into creating a real brand of your own, instead of working on a group of smaller projects.

If you get a scalable business site up to $30,000 a month in free cash flow, then reinvest all of that into marketing and branding for a couple years, it is possible to build something that generates at least a few million a year and sells for at least 8 figures. At that point you can retire if you want to, but I will be 30 in a few years, so I need to start pushing harder. :)

Reporters Read Your Blog Comments

Jun 22nd

This is at least the second time that I was mentioned in the mainstream media where journalists read blog comments to look for sources to cite.

If you see a hot story spreading don't be afraid to jump on it, especially if you have specific details related to the story, or your view is counter to the popular view. Journalists want sources, numbers, and to appear unbiased.

Google.com is the Web's Largest Social Network

Jun 22nd

Blogging, email, IM, and telephone make it easy to keep in touch with your real friends. Social networks are hyped, but tend to have low value traffic because they don't effectively separate signal from noise. The only people who have time for them are people hawking crap, people looking to waste time, and spam bots.

Sure Google owns Orkut, but they don't need it. Google already is a social network, and became one by targeting and partnering with the power users and influencers, but few people think of them as a social network. If you are a webmaster there is a good chance that Google delivers your ads, controls your feed, is your analytics provider, and is a leading source of traffic to your site. News sites and other trusted editorial partners are rewarded with high Google rankings, and become addicted to Google's traffic the way LookSmart was addicted to Microsoft's traffic a few years ago.

On top of having touch-points with most webmasters, Google also has touch-points with mass information consumers. Google's Toolbar gives them web history, which knows where you have been and how long you were there. Google Reader is the most popular feed reader service on the web. They know what voices you trust and subscribe to, and allow you to share your subscriptions or favorite items with friends.

Google's personalized homepage is also the most functional, customizable, and useful service by any of the major portals. Google gadgets are easy to create and syndicate, and Google allows you to publish gadgets or tabs with anyone.

They go so far as recommending information via the interesting items for you gadget, a recommendations tab on customized homepages, and toolbar recommendations.

Google Maps allows you to link to any location, adds data layers from trusted third parties, and accepts public comments on maps.

YouTube makes it easy to upload and syndicate videos, and now those are highly ranked in Google's search results. Look at YouTube's TestTube to see the community features they are planning.

Google offers an auto-complete feature, which makes it easy to refine your search based on the searches of others. They also show related sites and hot searches, and let you note sites you like via Google Notebook. If you don't find their results entirely relevant they make it easy to create a custom search engine using their data.

Keep track of time and your projects using Google Calendar and Google Docs.

Sure Google has Orkut, but they don't need it. By default Google keeps hold of your attention so they can use it to improve their relevancy algorithms and ad targeting. Tie in search personalization with automated ad optimization and their information sharing tools and it is easy to think of Google as the web's largest social network, though most people don't think of them that way, largely because they put information at the center of it, and are so good at separating signal from noise.

[Video] Public Relations & Search Engine Optimization

Jun 21st

Background on Public Relations

Along with branding, public relations is one of the few things that save you and I from commoditization. Every business (and business model) has flaws, hidden costs, value propositions, and has stories to express the delivery of value. PR aims to minimize the downsides of the flaws while making the upside look much larger than it is. Alternatively, public relations can also be used to diminish the upside of competitors while making their flaws look much larger than they are.

The Idea of a Fair Market

Is buying links fair? Is buying and holding domains fair? Is linking to a friend's site or your own new site fair? Is buying out competing sites fair? Is syndicating your spin through your own media outlets fair? Business does not care about the concept fair. It only cares about results.

The word fair is typically used to manipulate people. Markets are not fair. Humas have a bias toward that which they have an affinity to, and business is self-serving and inherently dirty.

PR aims to exploit the media and our inherent biases to create an affinity for a brand or product while viewing other brands or products lowly. Low kicks are allowed, though not recommended unless you thought through the potential consequences ahead of time.

Who Uses PR?

Why PR is so good for business

  • People and search engines have to trust something. Good public relations campaigns target the trusted parts of the web, by targeting either general authorities or related topical experts.

  • PR is hard to duplicate. Each story has a main storyteller. Another people retelling your story wont make the right people want to talk about them. Other SEO techniques, such as link buying, are much easier to duplicate and much easier to penalize.
  • Some of the best PR stories get to be told over and again by the main storyteller, surfacing that person as a topical expert whenever their field comes in focus of the media. Awareness builds relationships, which allows you to spread other stories.
  • Being trusted by one expert makes it easier to be trusted by others. The exposure builds an affinity to your brand and builds credibility.
  • Some things are popular only because they are popular. Good public relations stories can go viral and produce Justin TImberlake-like results. Using large seed sets makes it easier to ensure success, even if the story is not as viral as you would like.
  • Media exposure gives a sense of credibility. My landlord called me to tell me he read about me in the Wall Street Journal. It is much easier for him to view me as a topical expert after reading that article.

We Love You

Good public relations campaigns spread so well because they make the target want to share the story, by making them feel important, sharing their bias, and/or giving them some incentive to spread the story.

  • Salary.com created a story about how much work at home mothers should be paid, high-balling the numbers. Every year they re-release the same story and the media eats it up as though it is new.

  • All of the blog value calculators high-ball the value of the blogs to get people to want to talk about how great their blog is.
  • Even if you hate the concept of SEO it is hard to hate a version of it that is useful, free, and co-branded with Firefox.

Even if you fail to spread to spread these types of stories right away, you can still passively target the right audience using AdWords for less than 10 cents a click.

We Hate You

Many smaller companies make a name for themselves by stating how impure competing businesses are. Creating a common enemy makes it easy for people to identify with you.

The key is not to rant, rave or bash the enemy, but to provide an underlying theme that shows you’re all in it together against the enemy. When framed that way, you’re not a salesperson; rather, you’re a comrade who can lend a hand. Establishing a thematic enemy allows you to focus on providing solutions without coming across like you’re hard selling, and is a perfect technique for white papers, tutorials and blogging in general.

  • In some cases small market players can garner support when businesses attacks them. Once lawsuits are filed you never know how much support the competitor will get. When I was sued by Traffic Power my fight was for freedom of speech online and saving blog comments. It was an easy story to want to share, so people did. Within days of my blog post about it, the story was featured in the Wall Street Journal.

  • When we submitted a story about the fall in the value of the US Dollar to Netscape the story was titled How Bush Devalued the Dollar. They like political stuff on Netscape, so the story quickly shot to #1 on their homepage, stuck there all day, and sent over 15,000 visitors to our site.

Please Hate Us

Some public relations ideas play both sides of the coin - creating controversies then fixing problems they created. For example, PayPerPost went lowbrow with their marketing, offering unmarked editorial blog posts as a service, then came up with their Disclosure Policy site to correct the problem they created. They got press on the way down and the way up. They probably would have never received VC funding if they were not so lowbrow with their marketing.

Jason Calacanis

Love him or hate him, he is great at public relations. Most Weblogs Inc. content is at best average, yet he got a nice payout for it, and he used the PR machine again to launch Mahalo.

  • Weblogs Inc. worked because it got so much link equity from the media, which wanted to tell a story on blogging.

  • Jason maintained that all you needed to be successful was great content, but they had first mover advantage, paid low rates, and scraped by on profitability by selling spammy links.
  • Jason got a lot of press for Mahalo by claiming the death of SEO. Mahalo is a human compiled scraper & the URLs are seo friendly.
  • A week into creating Mahalo they already scraped trendy keywords off the Google hot terms list and now anyone can get paid a near livable wage building the manual scraper

Reputation Management

SEO can also be used to aid your public relations for your core branded terms. Reputation management works by helping favorable documents rank better, which suppresses the rankings of negative documents.

Can PR be Dirty?

Just like SEO, public relations can be used to push things that are good or things that are bad. Seth recently published my favorite marketing rant post ever. Here is a quote:

I believe that every criminal, no matter how heinous the crime, deserves an attorney. I don't believe that every product and every organization and every politician deserves world-class marketing or PR.

If you get asked to market something, you’re responsible. You’re responsible for the impacts, the costs, the side effects and the damage. You killed that kid. You poisoned that river. You led to that fight. If you can’t put your name on it, I hope you’ll walk away. If only 10% of us did that, imagine the changes. Imagine how proud you’d be of your work.

PR Watch highlights some of the misuse of and abuses by the public relations industry. They also publish videos to YouTube. I marketed some really dirty stuff when I was new to the web. As I learn more about the power of marketing, I am less willing to market things that only sound good when ignoring the hidden costs.

Content Strategies: Bulk Content vs Higher Quality Information

Rupert Murdock is trying to trade Yahoo MySpace for a 25% stake in the combined company. If Yahoo goes through with that, Rupert's $580 million MySpace investment will be worth about $10 billion. But should Yahoo do it?

Everyone Wants Dow Jones

Why Everyone Wants Dow Jones

The reporting at the WSJ may be better than other places, but even more importantly are the relationships that are in place and the perception that it is better. As many of the newspapers see their margins erode the top few will have more leverage over the market, because the smaller players will be forced to rely more on community created news (mostly noise or something Google could easily replicate) or syndicating news from companies like Dow Jones.

As content quality and relevancy algorithms improve and Google (or similar outfits) control more of the traffic supply the noise content will become less and less accessible (because traffic sources will rank the higher quality stuff to sell ads against and clone the low level stuff to keep hold of that traffic stream). The MySpace experience is not hard to clone.

Yahoo Does Not Need MySpace

Yahoo could grab MySpace and get a bunch of low value inventory in a spam filled network on the decline, or they could get the #1 financial newspaper for less. Yahoo already has a lot of traffic. They don't need another layer of noise. If they could innovate in the social space they ought to be able to do it with their current assets and traffic stream. As the web gets better at filtering signal vs noise, quality will beat out quantity nearly every time.

The Solidification of Markets

As offline players wake up to the online world the following is happening

  • search will get more relevant and become harder to manipulate (unless you already have significant offline influence or other assets you can leverage)

  • markets will get more efficient
  • all online verticals will get more competitive
  • markets will consolidate

How Does This Crap Relate to Me?

As markets evolve the threshold between signal and noise changes. Is your site the type of site that would be easy for Google to clone? Is your content the type of contet Google created the supplemental index for?

Look how bad some of the top ranked content is that still ranks because it is old and was considered high quality content years ago. Imagine how much harder it will be to crack into markets a couple years from now, when people are working so much harder to make higher quality citation worthy content today in so many formats.

The later you start the harder it gets. An hour of focused energy building citation worthy and brand building content today is worth 2 hours next year and 4 hours a year after that.

The effort spent building two parallel sites targeting the same keywords would be better spent creating one stronger brand. Markets are self reinforcing and exposure leads to more exposure.

To stay competitive independent webmasters will increasingly need to chose fewer high quality projects over a large quantity of cheaper lower quality information. Top trusted editorial channels have far more value than bottom feeding networks.

Good Stuff Elsewhere

Jun 19th

I tend to hate link aggregator posts, but I have read a lot of good stuff recently, and do not want to write 30 posts today or regurgitate other's info verbatim, so here is a link list of useful stuff I recently came across.

Affiliate Stuff

Search, SEO, & Personalization

by Joost de Valk

Business, Media, & Publishing

Arbitrage & PPC

Large Brands Double Dipping in Google's Organic Search Results

Jun 18th

Subdomain Spam

Since Google has been over-representing site authority in their relevancy algorithms many sites like eBay have begun abusing the hole with the use of infinite subdomains. These techniques not only effect branded search results, but also carry over to many other competitive keywords.

Creating Shadow Brands & Buying Top Ranked Competing Sites

While small businesses are worried about the risks of buying or renting a few links, some large corporations are launching shadow brands or buying out competing domains en mass. There are thousands or millions of other examples, so it is unfair for me to point any out, but here are a few for the sake of argument.

  • Monster.com has a near unlimited number of education related domains, with a near identical user experience at almost all of them.

  • Bankrate has a double listing at #2 and #3 for mortgage calculator. They also own the #1 and #4 ranked sites, another listing further down the page, and some entries on page 2 as well.
  • Sallie Mae offers around 100 student loan brands.
  • How many different verticals does Yahoo! cover the Nintendo Wii in? Off the top of my head, at least 9: their brand universe, yahoo tech, yahoo shopping, yahoo news, yahoo directory, ask yahoo, yahoo answers, videogames.yahoo, games.yahoo, etc. (and that doesn't even count geolocal subdomains for answers, shopping, etc.)

What happened to result diversity? When and why did Google stop caring about that?

Is Buying Links Ethical?

Some people may report paid links, but the fact that there is a mechanism to do so shows how effective link buying is.

Why is buying links bad, when using infinite domains or buying a bunch of sites are both legitimate? Why is it ok for the WSJ to publish this type of content, but wrong for me to do whatever necessary to compete in a marketplace cluttered with that information pollution?

The point here is not to say that big businesses are bad or doing anything wrong, but to show the stupidity Google is relying on when they scaremonger newer and smaller webmasters about the risks of buying a link here or there. The big businesses do all of the above, gain more organic links by being well known, and still buy links because the techniques works. Whatever Google ranks is what people will create more of, so long as it is profitable to do so.

If you create a real brand you can buy more links and be far spammier with your optimization with a lower risk profile, because Google has to rank your site or they lose marketshare. Create something that is best of breed and then market the hell out of it. If marketing requires buying a few links then open up the wallet and get ready to rank.

Google's Move Away From Direct Marketing to Selling Branded Ads

Jun 18th

Ad Relevancy & Quality Scores

Google has again and again touted the value of their targeted marketing, but most of the fortune 500 ad dollars are not spent on targeted marketing. A couple weeks ago in a WebmasterWorld thread many advertisers complained about getting killed by another quality score update.

What quality score actually means probably comes down to one of two things

  • your site is a thin affiliate site or something else they once needed to fill a market niche but now is viewed as noise

  • you have not created enough organic value and/or have not yet spent enough money building your brand

Google Hates Most Affiliate Websites

Some key quotes from the WMW thread...these two show the trend against affiliate sites in general

Too many outgoing affiliate links and you are toasted

So on my basic two types of sites, when I send the visitor to another domain to buy, I'm getting severly penalized ( a new affiliate "penalty"), but if I have a another party's lead form on my domain, I didn't get hit.

and this one shows that the change is not a short term one

A Google Adwords customer service rep said that they do not systematically target affiliates as a whole, nor sites with affiliate links. But, she said they are taking more steps with each landing page tweak to weed out sites that do not add a certain level of "value" to their visitors (as other posters to this thread have mentioned). She wouldn't tell me if this "value" is human-determined or algo-determined, again saying that she didn't know.

If your site is not the type of site they would white-list in the organic results eventually they are going to look to dispose of your position in the ads as well. As soon as enough brand advertisers find your space you are no longer needed. Thanks for sharing the keyword data needed to tell the brands what to bid on, and best of luck getting traffic from somewhere else.

If you want to see where paid search quality filtering is headed, look at how the organic algorithms have changed. Nothing better to glimpse the future of PPC than to read the documents about how they expect humans to rate organic search results.

Expanding the Role of Brand Related Advertisements

In that same WMW thread Skibum posed the following question

Why attack long time advertisers regardless of their business model who are providing consumers with what they are looking for while using broad match to show more ads triggered by keywords they were not intended to run on?

I recently saw a Dollar rent a car ad at the #1 ad position for Forex, which is not a cheap keyword.

Google Expanded Broad Match Going too Far.

As the day passed Google's CTR numbers showed they expanded that ad out too far and they made that ad less broad. They can automate spreading out brand ads too far, and then pull them back if the relevancy scores are too poor.

When it comes down to it, it is all about money. As Google commoditizes everything that is not a brand they need to collect more money from brands. The reason Google is pushing video hard is because they want to lead that ad market. It is no suprise to see Google leading in innovation in the video ad field. There is no better way to create inventory than to get it from your already established near infinite traffic stream.

The Cadillac Escalade video ads are taking the place of the textual Ford Explorer ads. Google has no brand allegence. Whoever is willing to overpay for exposure right now can buy all they want from Google.

Even when Google can show relevant ads, they still prefer to show brand ads if they think they will pay more. Consider a Michigan counties page where Google shows the following ad links.
Relevant Google AdLinks.
Those are relevant. But what ads does Google also target to that page?

Google Car Donation Ad.
A lot of car donation charities are non-profit shells wrapped around dirty high margin auction houses (just look at the $20/clicks ad pricing).

Google Drug Related AdSense Ad.
A pharmaceutical ad from a company with a patent an a marketing budget larger than their research budget.

"The most startling fact about 2002 is that the combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion)." - Marcia Angell

Given that ad targeting, it doesn't seem that Google is so pure, does it? One of the guys at WMW said the following

You guys are AdWords arbitrageurs. Although I'm sorry that your little gravy grain went off the rails, as a Google user, I can say good riddance to your garbage Web sites. Google, and users, want actual retailers to come up top in search results for sellers of a product, not parasite Web sites linking to actual retailers.

In a few years that same guy will probably be whining about how Google destroyed his business, but just like the other websites that died, Google doesn't care about him. What they want is decent relevancy WITH as much profit as legally possible. The more they cut out middle men the bigger they can make their chunk, even if doing so hurts relevancy and result diversity.

How do they get any more efficient than automating ad targeting while turning the text link into an unmarked ad unit? And they have patents for ad targeting based on how big of a risk taker you are:

"Examples of information that could be useful, particularly in massive multiplayer online RPGs, may be the specific dialogue entered by the users while chatting or interacting with other players/characters within the game. For example, the dialogue could indicate that the player is aggressive, profane, polite, literate, illiterate, influenced by current culture or subculture, etc. Also decisions made by the players may provide more information such as whether the player is a risk taker, risk averse, aggressive, passive, intelligent, follower, leader, etc. This information may be used and analyzed in order to help select and deliver more relevant ads to users."

How can anyone else compete in the ad market?

Andy Hagans is Desperate for Links...

Jun 18th

That is the reason I can think of to describe this flatering posts, which explains why Andy thinks this site became successful.

How to Make an Automated Search Spamming Tool

Jun 17th

Eli goes through the thought process of how to create automated search spam generator software. His recent launch of SQUIRT (a much expanded version of his free quick indexing tool) seems to have went quite well. Great marketing on the launch.

He also posted about recycling content, which is a bit aggressive for high brand sites, but probably quite common on thinner spammier sites.

If My Mom Read This How Would She React

Jun 17th

Most linkbait tends to focus on controversy, flavor of the moment hot items, or various forms of regurgitated content. Short term sites can get a spike from such activities, but real longterm brands are not built exclusively off them. Many people ask me how to create something remarkable and linkworthy. You can research just about any market and come up with a few ideas in 10 minutes. See what ideas spread in the past, and see what news stories were popular in parallel markets. Look at

  • what people are talking about in the market right now

  • the top search results
  • popular related searches
  • terms in the same field that are often covered by the mainstream media (or others who point authoritative links at competing sites)
  • bookmarked results on social media sites

You can take it one step further and create something you would be proud to show your mom. Certainly cliche to say that, but if you are creating that kind of content then you are on the right path. And if your mom hates your market or is no longer around, see who the leaders are in your market and impress them. From their perspective, is what you are doing unique and original enough to be comment worthy. Be honest.

There is also one other way to tell if what you are doing is going to be highly linkable or a passing fad. Imagine you were the person in the market who is seen as the leading authority for the keyword or idea you are going after. Is your idea good enough that the person you want to replace would be willing to link at it or try to copy it (depending on the type of person they are)?

If they are likely to recreate your idea what tangible assets can you leverage to make it hard to duplicate? Is there a way you can brand the idea as your own to where others market your brand by even mentioning the topic? Is there a domain name that adds credibility to your offering? Is there a way you can ask for community involvement to get other topical gurus to help spread your idea?

It doesn't matter if you try and fail. You at least learn from it. Eventually something will stick, and you only need to be right once.

Business.com Directory Coupons - 20% Off Promotional Code

Jun 15th

Update: The below coupon code no longer works, but we have found a couple new 2011 Business.com coupons. :)

In a recent interview Jessica Bowman offered the following Business.com coupon code: AVIVA, which is good for 20% off Business.com directory listings. Inclusion typically costs $299 a year, so with the coupon you would pay $239 for your submission.

Another nugget from the interview:

We currently have five editors and one editorial manager out of a total staff of nearly 100 employees, and all Business.com listings, whether pay-per-click Featured Listings or internet directory Standard Listings, are reviewed by a member of our Editorial Team.

Not bad margins on that business model if all the listings are wrapped in Google PPC ads and it only takes 6 editors to review it.

Inside Google's Black Box

Jun 13th

A bit slow to mention this article that came out while I was at SMX, but it is worth mentioning. The NYT ran an article about Google's relevancy algorithms titled Google Keeps Tweaking Its Search Engine, which talks about how Google reacts to relevancy problems. The article should be required reading for all SEOs and search lovers. Rand offered a great overview of the article, highlighting that Google noticed their age weighting was too heavy when Google Finance was not ranking where they thought it should, Google changes their matching algorithms to place more weight on phrase matching for some queries, and that Google has created a query deserves freshness (QDF) algorithm which determines how well to mix in new and old results.

Matt Cutts, who was quoted in the New York Times article, also commented on it on his blog, confirming that

The search-quality team makes about a half-dozen major and minor changes a week to the vast nest of mathematical formulas that power the search engine.

Google is not the only search engine heavily focused on the human elements of search. In one of Tim Mayer's slides he showed a Yahoo! search result which said something along the lines of Yahoo! employees see bad results? Report spam.

The two things Google does more aggressively than the other engines are:

Build as many quality signals as you can, such that if they ever impart intent on your sites you can get away with more dirty stuff than a spammy sounding unbranded site can.

Subliminal Advertising Video

Jun 13th

Frank pointed at this subliminal advertising video, which goes to show the power of Google's preferences in a SERP full of personalized recommendations, and a web of automated and personalized ads posing as standard text links.

Google Shows You Who is Willing to Sell You Quality Links Cheaply

Jun 13th

Google recently added the ability for you to report link buyers, which is probably nothing more than a mind control game and a complete waste of time. I recently saw what looked like obvious link buying by Discovery.com. Do you think Google would do anything about it if I reported them? Nope.

Google also recently starting a phased launch of their position placement reports, which is far more beneficial to webmasters, as it shows what sites your AdSense ads are syndicated to. Most sites monetized via AdSense only make a fraction of their full potential, so sharing this data presents more arbitrage opportunities. How you can use this data to profit:

  • refine your AdSense ad buys to only target the best performing sites and pages

  • better learn who has your desired traffic stream and create things that appeal to their ego / belief system / audience
  • buy custom ads direct from the best converting sites (including text links)
  • find out what pages on competing sites get the most traffic and see how easy it is to rank for the terms those pages target
  • survey a competing site's traffic profile to find out which entire sections or sub-sections you should duplicate
  • if a site is getting a lot of traffic but an exceptionally poor CTR, consider buying the site outright and better integrating the ads into the content

Answer Engines

Jun 13th

A friend named Brent sent me a link to the Cyc project page on Wikipedia and a background video on Google Video. Cyc is an AI project which aims to enable AI applications to perform human-like reasoning.

What happens to the value of your content when search engines get better at providing answers directly in the search results? Is your site the type of site they would like to cite, or does it fall further down the list on another category of queries? What can you do to make them more likely to want to source your site? Does your site have enough perceived trust and value to draw clicks after they put your content directly in the search results?

As search engines work harder at things like universal search, search personalization, and cyc any sites which are only facts and filler won't get much exposure.

Don't Trust Blog Comments From 24.208.220.xx

Jun 13th

I generally get mostly positive feedback here, but sometimes I stir stuff a bit and get negative feedback. Over the last year nearly half of my negative feedback has came from the IP address 24.208.220.xx. The funny thing is, no positive comments come from that IP address, and nearly every comment they leave has a different name signed to it.

  • John was worried about me having a Trojan in some software. So worried, in fact, that he also left another comment on the same post under the name Matthew.

  • Mark claimed SEO for Firefox violated Firefox's trademark.
  • Robin claimed I was an idiot for saying that AdWords was less stable than SEO.
  • Stacy made the ignorant comment that search spamming is against the law.
  • Marty thought Elite Retreat looked way overpriced.
  • Steven called me a jackass.
  • Shawn stated he thought I was afraid the Internet was affecting my job security.
  • Big John claimed that I had wrote yet another whiny post.
  • Steve, Kyle, Talk Radio, Mary J, kind of funny, and Charles Tomey all thought SEO Elite was the best thing since sliced bread, which might explain why they so adamently hate Backlink Analyzer and SEO for Firefox.

If they thought they were so clever with all the rude comments, why were they too stupid to change their IP address when they wrote them?

If a lot of people are throwing hate your way make sure to check the IP address. In some cases it is just one person who really hates you. :)

Lowering Your Search Rankings for a Keyword That is Getting You in Legal Trouble

Jun 12th
posted in

Question: A client of mine wanted to target high traffic terms in his industry. His industry was not very competitive, and some of the target terms were competing trademarks. We rank top 5 for them in Google, and now legal troubles are occurring. We removed all references to the competing trademark on our site, but still have some rogue inbound links that we can't get removed that have the anchor text which targets the competing mark. What should we do?

Answer: There are four options which can help get you out of this situation.

Work With the Competition

If you have a nepotistic relationship with the competitor and recommend them then perhaps you can both be strengthened as category leaders.

Is the Lawsuit Cheap Marketing?

Anything involving Google and search is still a ripe field for media exposure. If you think your chances of winning are good enough, and the potential return is much larger than the risk of losing consider letting them sue you. It is probably not your fault that Google ranked you, but also seek legal advice outside of reading this post... I am not a lawyer.

Tank Your Rankings for that Keyword

If the links point at a page other than the homepage, consider removing the URL from your site, and then use the Google URL removal tool when the 404 error shows.

If you bought those links cash usually works to help remove them. Use their on site contact information and the email in their whois. Call the number in the whois data. Pay them to take down the links.

Improve the Rankings of Competing Pages

The tips offered in my search engine reputation management post work here as well. Follow the tips in that post to help make other competing pages rank better.

You can also work on improving the rankings of other competing pages while lowering your rankings. Feel free to push a couple strong pages if you are just trying to end the confrontation, but if you feel they are dirty you may also want to help surface some ugly news that was ranking on page 3. Do that and they may care less about your rankings, and shift their focus to those other sites.

What is a Newspaper Website?

Jun 12th

It is something you throw co-branded lead generation offers on to get past search engine quality scores and search relevancy scores based on domain trust and authority.

Washington Post Advertisement.

With classifieds becoming a free service, it won't be long until these types of lead generation pages are on every major news site. Soon after that, they will heavily link to them from their content articles, further blurring the line between content and advertisements. But then again, that is the standard Google is setting by mixing videos in their organic search results, and suggesting people watch related video ads.

Why I Don't Like .biz Domain Names

Jun 11th

Question: I have a .biz website that ranks well in some of the major search engines for a few keywords, but does not rank as well as I would like for many other keywords. Should I consider switching to a .com domain name?

Answer: In the long run I think it is worth moving away from .biz if you are creating a real long-term business. The web was created to share information, and businesses are generally viewed less admirably than the individuals that work in them. As long as relevancy algorithms are based largely on links, then a .biz extension could hurt your exposure in most fields.

Most web companies that control large traffic flow have taught their userbase (and those who they trust to vote) that commercial = spam. To put this in perspective, some journalists write entire articles about businesses and then do not link to the businesses because they feel that doing so would be too promotional. In competitive fields sometimes only a few links separate a business that is getting 5% of the traffic or 30% of the traffic a search engine offers.

If you are starting your business on a .biz it doesn't matter if you have the best information in the world...the bias of .biz (and toward business in general) is going to hurt your exposure, making your business less efficient and increasing your business cost. The small businesses that are best sustainable on the web are those that function as businesses yet have the feel of non-commercial sites (and acquire links as though they are non-commercial sites).

How to Turn Google Personalized Search Results Off Without Logging Out

Jun 9th

At SMX Matt Cutts said you can turn Google's personalized web search results off by adding &pws=0 to the URL of a search query. If you are logged into your Google Account this link shows your personalized version, while this one shows the general unpersonalized SERP.

Don't Be Content Ranking #1 in Google

Jun 9th

Some top ranking sites do not deserve to. When one is lucky enough to be in such a situation it allows us to get away with being lazy, because a site does not have to be too efficient to make money if it is well represented for targeted search queries that send free traffic. But every website has upside potential, even if it already ranks #1.

Improve Internal Navigation & Usability

One client of mine only ranks below his official manufacturer for their name. His site had inadequate internal navigation. I took a day to improve the navigation, and the result was a 150% increase in sales. The last 8 days of last month sold nearly as much as the rest of the month combined. His business model looked like it was about to die, but that one day of work made it functional for at least a couple more years.

High Profit Parallel Markets

I had a site which made a couple hundred dollars a day that was well established in its market, but did not dominate it. Taking the path of lowest resistance, I branched the site into two parallel markets of greater commercial interest where the competition was weaker. On an investment which is less than what the site earns in a month now I was able to increase its income 5x, without even doing much link building.

An Undeserved Ranking

One of my friends is in a high profit market where the competition is absolutely clueless. Basic SEO brought that site to a #1 ranking in Google. The site is highly conversion oriented and makes great income, but now that it already ranks it probably makes sense to reinvest some of the profit into improving content quality and reinforcing that market position. Businesses that do not reinvest eventually fall, especially if they are winning only because the competition is clueless. After spending a couple thousand dollars a day on AdWords eventually the competitors will start to look into SEO.

The Value of Branding

If a site ranks #1, and is monetized via PPC ads, it still might only make a portion of what it should because AdSense is not as efficient as some people would lead you to believe. If a site is strong enough to attract brand advertisers they will pay a premium just for getting their brand seen. Scraper sites and thin content sites don't attract brand advertisers, even if they convert. I have seen a site that was making $80 a month on AdSense make over $10,000 a month selling brand advertisements.

Automation & the Effectiveness Timeline of a Search Spam Technique

Jun 9th

By the time people are looking to automate a no cost SEO technique, as a competitive strategy it is already dead. Blog spamming was once highly effective, but when commercial blog comment spam software was available the practice already stopped working in Google.

Automated Article Submission Software

At SMX advanced a Yahoo! engineer noted that if they detect content as duplicate they are less likely to trust it to seed crawling other documents. People are pushing article submission software to submit articles to article directories, but if most of the content on an article directory site is duplicate, marketers are pushing spamming them via an automated system, and the content networks accept automated submissions, obviously this is not going to be a clean and trusted part of the web that you can go back to again and again. Maybe it is good to try here or there for a bit of anchor text or other market testing, but it is probably not worth automating and doing on a mass scale, especially if the site lacks important signs of quality.

Hundreds of Engineers Work to Kill Spamming Techniques

The spam detection and anti-spam algorithms are driven by people. If something is commonplace in a market then the search engines try their best to stop it. If they can automate it they will. If they have to demote it manually they will.

In the second video here Matt Cutts talked about how spam prevention methods may be different based on language, country, or even market...noting that many real estate sites rely too much on reciprocal link spam.

The less your site's marketing methods look like spam and the harder it is to duplicate what you have done the less likely you are to get hurt by the next update. By the time there is a mass market automated spamming solution the technique is already dead.

Why John Conde, Stymiee at SitePoint Forums, is a Joke

Jun 8th

Stymiee, a moderator at SitePoint, in a thread about learning SEO claimed:

Read forums and websites dedicated to discussing SEO. You'll learn more and won't get only one point of view which is usually a bad thing. Remember, those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

In the thread they dismiss the -950 Google ranking phenomena as a myth, when it clearly happens to many websites (likely due to filtering and local re-ranking of search results). Misguided group-think lead by an alpha male ogre is a bad thing.

The guy who claims teachers are bad has about 19,000 posts and carries around his SitePoint SEO Guru badge. In the same thread, he talks crap about my book, deletes my response, bans me from the forums, as he claims the forums provide more opinion diversity. Charles, the person who notified me of the hate thread, had the following to say

Have you ever run into him before? He is an unbelievable dickhead. I hate to sound unprofessional with someone I have never met, as it is not my style but, he roams the sitepoint forums spouting off at the mouth like he wrote every single SE algorithm. Not to mention how he does it in a belittling way to people who are truly ignorant through no fault of their own. I have no idea why sitepoint allows him to be a team leader. I have written them with links to posts he has made offending comments on so many times I can’t even count.

I am willing to bet that your post will be removed within hours. That is what happens every time I make a valid point against him.

Since my comments were deleted from SitePoint I will post them here for posterity:

Nice to see you delete my comments while running a hate thread about me... which shows how accurate and balanced this forum thread is.

[QUOTE=stymiee;3416219]Remember, those who can, do; those who can't, teach. ;)[/QUOTE]

And it only took him about 19,000 posts to figure out what group he belongs to. Congrats Mr. SEO Guru of 2006.

What a joke!

Is There an Internet Advertising Bubble?

Jun 8th

It is easy to look at Google's stock price and think that it is overpriced, but marketing drives all markets, and there is a huge divide between how people consume media and marketing spend:

There is a growing divergence between how consumers spend their time and how advertisers allocate their marketing budgets. Last year, U.S. consumers spent nearly a third of their total media-consumption time engaged with online or interactive media, a dramatic increase from just two or three years ago. At the same time, Fortune 500 companies allocated only 6 percent of their marketing budgets to online media in 2006, up from 5 percent in 2005.

The web offers more precise targeting, a more interactive and engaging experience, bias toward wealthier consumers, and quicker feedback loops. That all trims waste.

As sales funnels get more efficient, and big advertisers move online, the ad markets will move past direct ROI measurements toward total lifetime value measurements and brand based metrics. If the web has 1/3 of consumer media consumption time before video was hot what percentage will it enjoy with the growth of video?

Some People Just Want to Waste Your Time

Jun 6th
posted in

Price points are a reflection of value. Set them too low and you attract the wrong people. If information is personalized free is almost always the wrong price. Some people will warn how little money they have, in spite of spamming for a half dozen sites in competitive high profit verticals. If they ask for services with the little or no money warning they are probably worthy of little or no attention.

Some customers will search for your old price or old offers on other sites and demand hours of your time and/or full refunds. No matter what you do that customer was going to want a full refund. You just have to determine how much of your time you want to give them for nothing.

Some clients have subsidiaries that will try to get free information out of you. If a company does not pay directly then they are not taking you seriously. To best appreciate this, it is worth noting that an advertising firm for a high touch fashion website (which tried squeezing free SEO information out of me) just emailed me an advertising request for advertising on Threadwatch. Could they be any more clueless?

Much of the free information also isn't worth listening to. Some platform speakers drone on about how everyone else in their industry is an idiot. If they hate themselves so much why are they still in the field? Why don't they move into a field they enjoy?

Yahoo! Quality Based Pricing

Jun 5th
posted in

Yahoo! announced their Panama API today. They also announced the beginning roll out of their quality based pricing for content websites:

Previously, you were charged the same for traffic from all web sites within our distribution network. Now, with quality-based pricing, you may be charged less for certain clicks than you otherwise would pay, depending on the overall quality of the traffic provided by our distribution partners. As a result, your click charges can decrease.

As Yahoo! cleans up their content network look for many of their partners to switch to Google, which has a deeper ad network and better relevancy algorithm.

Automated Content Development & Moral Dilemmas in Marketing

Fantomaster had a great comment about whether automated content generation is moral:

I don't really get the "moral dilemma". Would you say the same about press releases, product announcements, ads, commented statistical tables and other forms of corporate droidspeak? And if not - why not?

I mean, it's not as if the Web as a whole were particularly dominated by high end literary prose, deeply suggestive well crafted poetry or similar feats of human creativity.

And, when you think of it, what is Mahalo but a human compiled scraper? Why is it ok that the WSJ publishes auto-generated looking advertorials? Thompson, like search engines, already produces automated content.

Journalistic integrity matters most to those who need you to believe others are unethical for their business models to work.

Data Collection: Google's Biggest Competitive Advantage

Jun 2nd

Today Google bought Feedburner, which (along with AdSense, AdWords, the Toolbar, Analytics, user accounts, Google Feed Reader, Google Checkout, Youtube, etc) is yet another source of data acquisition for them.

Earlier today I posted about a small and harmless javascript that can be used to see which competing sites visitors visit before going to your site. In the second comment about it a guy named Dave nearly exploded.

While everyone is running around polluting links on the web graph (and fighting over who the spammer is and what is spam), Google is busy building something only they can build, because they are the only ones who get a free pass on collecting user data as a feature.

Spy on Visitor Browsing History for Competitive Research

Jun 1st

Spyjax allows you to view the browsing history of website visitors. You upload a list of competing URLs and see which ones the browser visited before visiting your site, which can be used to let you know what competing sites people typically visit before seeing your site. By tracking this, you can replicate the features and/or marketing strategy of other well visited sites and move yourself earlier into the buy cycle.

Search Relevancy & Keeping Promises

Jun 1st

Paypal.com has been down for hours. I usually make a good number of sales, but today my site is on vacation. One way to lose a market leading position is to screw your partners out of millions of dollars of sales. Hopefully some of the people who were thinking of buying my ebook come back when I change processors or Paypal has a product worth using. One of my clients had some blank database pages ranking in the search results. Imagine what a searcher does if they land on one of these. Would they ever want to come back to that site again? Or did they lose all trust on the first click? If the page has no value and I lose trust on the first visit I would rather not get the ad impression than get the one impression and lose the visitor forever.

Another client had a button for their soon to be launched product on their site which said on sale now. The sales page said coming soon. When the product actually launches fewer people will click through to it because they will assume that it is still not available.

The best spot to sell is on our own sites, but we all do some form of anti-selling. No easier way to undermine profit potential than placing roadblocks that kill trust or conversion on our own sites.






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